A Comprehensive Guide to Managed Services
The purpose of this guide is to uncover everything a consumer needs to know about managed services, including the different types of solutions that are out there. At the conclusion of our Comprehensive Guide to Managed Services, our goal is that you will be able to make an educated decision on whether or not managed services are for you and your business.
Managed services is a broad term that can encompass a variety of things. In this Comprehensive Guide to Managed Services we will take a look at managed services as it comes to IT. In the case of IT, managed services is when a third party IT provider, also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), manages all or some of a business’s IT needs.
What Is a Managed Services Provider?
A managed service provider (MSP) is a company that either provides on-site, or in most cases remotely manages a customer’s IT infrastructure and/or end-user systems, typically on a proactive basis and under a subscription model. As technology evolves, so do the services of manager service providers.
How Managed Services Fulfill the IT Needs of SMBs
Small and middle market businesses must balance a range of challenges in managing their IT function because they usually don’t have the skills or resources required to fully meet their needs. To address this problem, many businesses have turned to the support of managed services providers (MSPs). Below are the top drivers why SMBs are leveraging managed services.
It is important to remember, there is no one solution when it comes to managed services — a business can outsource one IT need, such as help desk services, or they can outsource all their IT needs with a managed package that is specifically designed to act as a full technology team.
Types of Service Offerings of Managed Service Providers
Backup as a Service
Backup as a service focuses on backups and recovery.
Cloud backup or backup as a service (BaaS) protects your data in the cloud. This allows you to recover a file or a server back to hardware on your premises. Cloud backup may integrate with your on-premises backup software, such as CommVault, ArcServe, or Symantec, and often serves as a replacement for tape. Alternately, backup as a service is a managed solution in which the provider brings the software to your premises.
Cloud DR or disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) protects your business, as opposed to only the data. This allows you to recover your entire IT environment – servers, storage, network, data, and apps – in the cloud. You can quickly resume business operations in a matter of hours, instead of waiting until your onsite environment is rebuilt. Disaster recovery typically leverages replication technologies, which can be host-based (at the server level), like Double-Take or Zerto, or array-based (at the storage level), like EMC or NetApp replication.
Desktop as a Service (DaaS)
Desktop as a service (DaaS), sometimes referred to as hosted or managed virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), is a cloud solution that replaces traditional desktop management. Virtual desktops are stored in the provider’s data center and accessed through a secure web portal. Instead of being tied to a physical company-issued device, with all of your applications and data, employees can access their desktops using any web-enabled device of their choosing — PCs or Macs, tablets, smart phones and more. This approach allows for simplified, unified desktop management and increased productivity and security, all without the immense CapEx and maintenance costs required for an on-premises VDI solution.
Managed Communications (Ucaas)
Managed communications or unified communications, combine voice, video, chat and email into one service. Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is a delivery model in which PBX (Private Branch Exchange) and collaboration applications and services are outsourced to a third-party provider and delivered over an IP network, typically the public internet. It’s being driven by growing desire to eliminate onsite hardware that require maintenance contracts and ongoing management costs, as well as a great need for redundancy to mitigate costly outages. It enables a uniform telephony experience for all users, regardless of location, due to the availability of affordable bandwidth.
This way all your employees are connected on one platform, instead of logging into a several different applications. Managed communication packages include such things as:
- Hosted Phones
- Instant Messaging
- Video Conferencing
- File Sharing
- Virtual Rooms or Spaces
- Calendar Sharing
- Administrative Portals
When voice and telephony are integrated with conferencing, email and instant messaging, little efficiencies emerge in every interaction. These efficiencies may seem of small importance individually, but ultimately translate to untold dollars in value when multiplied across organizations over time.
Hosted VoIP is a cloud solution in which the service provider manages all VoIP equipment, servers (PBX), and services — in most cases delivering both local and long-distance phone services back to your offices. IP phone handsets may be brought in by you, rented or purchased from the MSP. A variety of enterprise-class features are available, including: instant messaging, CRM integration, call center options, Outlook integration and 24/7 support.
Networking and Infrastructure
Networking and infrastructure can be defined in a few different ways. Some MSPs will handle servers virtually, meaning any maintenance and backups are conducted off-site. Other MSPs will choose to host and maintain servers in their own data centers, while others will rent space on their own servers. So which option is best for your business? This will depend on how big your business is and/or how much data you are interested in storing. One important thing to note, purchasing and hosting your own server is the most expensive option, as the hardware will need to be replaced about every 5 years.
Help Desk Support
Help desk support services are one of the most popular managed services on the market. With support services like PC and Mac support, the MSP takes care of everyday problems like password resets, antivirus or software updates. Most support services will cover mobile devices, tablets and printers.
Managed services are full service managed solutions, designed to act as an in-house IT team. These services combine multiple managed services solutions and typically involve some sort of security, backup, monitoring, and full support services.
Security as a Service
There is no doubt about it — the world would be a better place without state-sponsored cyberattacks, without criminals working to steal your data and without, every so often, one of your own employees becoming a threat but unfortunately these are the realities we live with today. Proactive measures are the only option. The moment your environment is compromised, it’s already too late. Security has to be square one.
Security as a service is an outsourcing cyber-security model. Most SaaS solutions are deployed via the cloud, but some providers will also install a physical component in your environment. Below are some cybersecurity services:
Pen Test: An attempt to gain access to a network or application via a simulated attack. This is often required for compliance such as PCI.
Risk Assessment: The practice of evaluating an organization’s or IT environment’s current security posture with suggested recommendations for improvement. This is often performed in reference to a specific security standard or compliance regulation.
Managed SIEM: A real-time, managed solution for Security Information & Event Management, designed to provide a holistic view of a customer’s environment and correlate various data sources to identify threats.
DDoS Mitigation: A solution designed to block distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks from taking down a network or online application. This is especially relevant for businesses that do business online.
Access Control: A technique to regulate who or what can use resources or applications on a network. This can include Single Sign-On and Identity Access Management.
Perimeter Security: A broad approach to fortify the boundaries of a network. This may include firewalls, Virtual Private Networks, intrusion detection, and intrusion prevention.
Endpoint Protection: A unified solution to protect desktops, laptops and mobile devices; features include anti-virus, anti-spyware and personal firewall.
Incident Response: An organized, forensic approach to investigate and remediate a security breach. This can be on-demand or via monthly retainer.
Working With a Managed Services Provider
To help you get comfortable working with a managed IT services provider, we have compiled a list of questions to ask your potential managed service provider.
1. What services are covered under my contract, and what lies outside of it?
Asking this early on in the process is the best way to protect yourself from any unforeseen expenses later on in the partnership. Having a clear idea of what you need is going to save you a lot of time because managed services providers can differ on how they provide services, so it is important to understand what you need for your business. The MSP should be able to assist with this process. The goal here is not to be surprised with any unknown costs at the end of the month.
2. How will your services help support the growth of our business?
All businesses are focused on growth and driving new and sustained revenue growth. When selecting a managed services provider, you want to choose an MSP that will make assisting your growth plans easy. As you experience growth, you will naturally add more staff, so you want an MSP that will make it easy and affordable to add new workstations, employee accounts or locations.
3. Will your managed services keep us at the forefront of technology?
One thing is certain, technology will continue to change and evolve. You need a managed services provider that is able to adapt to both growth and change. This means the MSP has a plan to keep your business current with technology, based on your budget and needs.
4. Where is their help desk located? What is coverage like?
Help desk solutions are one of the most popular managed services out there today. It is important to understand though that all help desks are not created equal. One critical, and easily identifiable, difference is where the help desk is located. Is the help desk U.S.-based or in a geographic area prone to natural disaster?
Additionally, it’s important to know what the operating hours are for the help desk. You should have a 24/7 help desk service because technology never sleeps, and neither does commerce. If your entire email network goes down on Christmas day, you are going to need to call the help desk, and if no one is there because you didn’t invest in a 24/7 help desk system, you are going to regret it.
5. How do you keep us updated on our IT experience?
We recommend that you make your communication expectations clear to the managed services provider from the beginning. Let them know that you expect to be included in certain events or items related to your company’s IT. Good MSPs want you to be involved and will have set procedures on how they communicate to keep you in the loop. Here are some standard practices you can ask about:
Reports: Are they included in your service and at what intervals will they be provided (quarterly, monthly, weekly etc.)?
Meetings: Do they offer recurring meetings as a way to stay up to date?
Troubleshooting: This is more personal preference, but do you want your MSP to come to you when there is a problem to propose solutions or do you just want them to handle the problem?
Are Managed Services Right for Your Business?
A study by CompTIA found that nearly two-thirds of organizations are using managed services for at least one IT function — not too surprising considering the many options managed service providers offer and the increasing dependency on technology by businesses. MSPs provide a wide range of services and features, but they also compliment in-house IT staff.
Does that mean outsourcing some or all of your IT needs to a managed service provider is right for your business though?
Below are some helpful considerations when evaluating your managed services options:
- Do you feel like your in-house IT team could use extra time to focus on big-picture projects like business development, strategic efforts or employee productivity?
- Are you looking to move your data to the cloud?
- Is your business large enough to justify a full in-house IT team (troubleshooting, security engineer, software development, etc.)?
- Do you currently have a disaster contingency plan for your data?
- Do you like the idea of a fixed monthly fee for all of your IT needs?
- Could your employees benefit from a more collaborative and flexible communications system?
- Do you have remote workers? Do you plan to have remote workers in the future?
- Does your business work with sensitive data?
- Do you see your IT needs elapsing your current IT solution?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you may want to explore managed services further.